Good Job Goodreads…


My self-preservationist tendency is to spurn online social media as much as humanly possible for my generation.  It seems that Facebook is the new way to pass the kids’ school pictures around…you know, those goofy and darling snapshots stuck on little squares with jaggedly scissored edges?  I miss those.  Now, I must log in and look for “updates” if I want to know what children I saw home from the hospitals look like today. Mortifyingly, I have learned of dear and turbulating friends’ recent family losses and life struggles from Twitter or Facebook, well behind all the distant acquaintances and disdained former co-workers who instantly “shout-out” condolences onto tiny, 2-second rectangular boxes of comment.  My phone calls or paper cards in the mail arrived weeks after the divorces, chemo and burials I could only apologize for by then.  From Pinterest, it has become apparent that confidantes are engaged (or married). Shucks! I can no longer pluck my gifted disposable camera from a fluffly lace bucket on my tipsy tumble out of the reception if I want to have pictures later.  I can just pin as many as I am inclined to, although there is something raggedy about doing this after the news or festivities I missed have taken place.

Much of this tardy ignorance is the peril of being a sometimes published author but full-time bookworm and introverted writer who is not so readily on the Smart Phone gossip trail. But even from my withdrawed psychic bubble, I can not ignore the dangerous pedestal that digital communication sits upon in our lives and world.  There is no way that words on a screen can substitute for the sound of a person’s voice.  And- to the point of this writing here- I hope I never live to see the day that this pitifully easy display of words on a screen becomes the subsitute for a decent book in my hands.

In this age of communication that is evaporated at worst and shorthand at best, I must get in on the action if I want to continue to be apart of the world I guess. I must commit to memory nearly a dozen usernames and passwords I attempt to overlap if the websites’ varying quality control requirements so permit.  I am hesitant to “stumble upon” too much new, but I have to admit that Goodreads just may be the online feeding ground that sticks with me longer than Myspace is attempting to do.

My publisher had already set up a page for me.  There was a dainty icon listed on my Author’s Page.  Once I saw that other writers had neat profiles with their pictures, personal control and even structured ways to visit with readers, I sent off my author application to gain control of the page with my books upon them. Truth be told, the primary function of the online platform Goodreads is to subtlely shift good readers back to real books–not just reading them, but also buying them.  This is not the place to come if you do not read, nor it is the place to learn. It is the online break for the people who will take off from their latest mundane cyber exhibition (their latest couscous recipe, or fly hairdo), and instead direct that spare time and energy into an intellectual community of those who yearn to read. For any venturer who wanders in its direction quickly learns that he or she is not the truly anonymous star seeking fans in the form of “Likes” and “Follows.” And I would rather see parents ignore reading to their children in order to show the children they are reading, than parents ignore their children because they missed their chance to be pop stars then but are trying to make up for it in the cyberworld now.

Goodreads may be part of the answer to a fledgling, dislocated education industry’s prayers. It has the enormous promise to become a way for teachers and professors across this universe to snatch students in laptop classrooms out of the haze of sneaking onto social media while pretending to type notes. I have been at the head of that class, and even behind it. Neither grown adults nor urban youth cared that I knew they were all entranced in socialization online while I talked to myself to explain what I already knew but they did not. Inevitably, it is always the teachers’ faults when the masses routinely miss homework instructions and fail to hear key points that arrive back into their faces on accredidation or standards exams. With learners hypnotized into a passing of time they can no longer ascertain and coddled for owning the attention spans of flies, it appears to all others that teachers must really be so negligent. “Well, if you insist…” should be the prelude of countless opening lectures and first day of class speeches, when those in charge insist Goodreads must be apart of the grading package. And I do believe all students would grow to love it.

I once remember children most dreamed to win immortality through a baseball bat, basketball, choir solo-worthy voice, ballet slippers, or the academic prowess of future doctors. Now, to simulate the human instinct towards extraordinariness, which once drove Michael Jordan to do layups for 20 hours straight or Tyler Perry to exhaust himself writing and producing plays for an insomniatic decade, today’s sedentary children (and inexusable adults) just power up and chase strangers in the middle of classes or the night. Nothing special required. Just a mediocre personality or message to pronounce.

Goodreads eliminates that hazardous, life-wasting wish. There is hierarchy and structure, but of an appropriate and welcome nature. It is a home with a purpose that is apparent, respected and tenderizing in a certain way. How often do I get online to be whisked back to the days I first held The Chronicles of Narnia in my hands, or found out what happened to Daisy, or learned why there were none? To see book covers and their authors come across the screen is the equivalent of my self-amusing tendency to post my baby pictures online, as opposed to current ones of me that really only show my life is no constant adventure after all. This mandatory humility is progress for any online social media community as popular as Goodreads. These are the days of feverish SEO marketing gurus who promise fame and fortune to any would-be star or tycoon willing to pay to learn how to master Google page rank with keywords. That there should be many other feverish actions behind the words is something this trend overlooks. But, the action of words is the only reason to post, review, share or comment on Goodreads. Fittingly, the demonstrations and camaraderie of all good readers who are reading will quickly shame anyone who is not.

At Goodreads, masses of participants willingly take on the title of “Fan” before running to gather them. Given the wholesome and progressive ratings system Goodreads offers for books (it can’t get any lower than a simply simple “didn’t like it”), the site moves away from the sad regression of the Internet into the primary medium on Earth where grouches and haters are able to safely trash others from afar.   It give writers, thinkers, intellectuals and authors a safe haven free from competition with Rihanna, Adele, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Kate Middleton and Jennifer Lawrence. I must thank Goodreads for breaking my habit of zoning out within the latest breaking news on these women, all of whom I love.  But they and those of their manufactured statures are too immediately in my face whenever I just want to check MSN or Yahoo! for the weather or local movie times.  And, given Hilary Mantel’s recent witch hunt for a complicatingly benevolent lecture and Patricia Cornwell’s incomprehensible past extortions, one would assume hard-toiling writers may only claim that digital stature if there is scandal, misfortune or daggers around them. That’s not fair. There is no other chance for even the most adored and accoladed of authors to compete with the media machines behind that devastating imbalance in society’s values.  But on Goodreads, authors are not even forced to try.

Goodreads is not a random community that one is so often forced to contend with online: everyone squished together like crabs in a barrel, any remotely connected opportunity to show face seized- even if the face being shown doesn’t know what they are talking about, or isn’t talking about anything really.  And there is no danger of being unwillingly assaulted with a Girls Gone Wild scene, child pornography, mediocre street rap, angry political rant, broadcast schoolyard fight, or even orchestrated and filmed driveby.

You do not need side boob, a red carpet or a DUI arrest to own your own corner of cyberspace, but only passion for the first mass-marketed form of entertainment there ever was: printed books. I hope Goodreads maintains its modesty and guards the limitations of its user-driven content to stay as simple, precise and relevant as it is.  There are only user gravatars, book ratings, book shelves, book reviews, book groups…and then there are the books.  Any place in this new Internet planet we rely on that puts the books in my face that I will never forget reading, needed to read, still want to read and finally will be encouraged to read is good in my book.

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